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Lesson 2.3

Subjects: science, language arts.
Skills: application, analysis, evaluation.
Strategies: scientific inquiry, research skills, classification, role play.
Duration: 30 to 45 minutes.
Class Size: any; groups of 4 to 5.

Ceramic urn from Richmond County, North Carolina.


In their study of artifact classification, students will use pictures of artifacts or objects from a teaching kit to classify artifacts and answer questions about the lifeways of a group of historic Native Americans.


"Classification" and "Pee Dee Culture Artifacts" activity sheets for each group. Optional: an archaeology teaching kit, if available.


Artifact: any object made, modified, or used by humans; usually this term refers to a portable item.

Awl: a sharp pointed tool used to punch holes in skins and other materials.

Lifeway: how a group of people live.

Pendant: an ornament hung on a cord around the neck and worn as a necklace.

Style: the combination of shape and decoration distinguishing a group of artifacts, such as pottery, found in specific geographic areas and dated to certain times; a particular way of doing something that is associated with a specific culture or cultural tradition.


The purpose of archaeological research is to learn about the lifeways of past peoples. The research design developed for each archaeological project usually consists of a series of specific questions and a description of the methods by which the questions will be answered using the archaeological data.

The artifacts from the site form an important part of the data base. Artifacts are classified so that they can be used to form or test hypotheses that answer the research questions.


1. Tell students to imagine they are a team of archaeologists. The team has completed excavations of village sites along the Little River in Montgomery County. A few hundred years before Europeans arrived, tribes influenced by an art style archaeologists call the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex lived in these villages. Prior research shows many of the artifacts these people left are different from those of other tribes living in the area. Those influenced by the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex made, for example, conch shell pendants (called gorgets) carved with representations of crosses or serpent symbols. To keep the two kinds of cultures distinct, archaeologists named the one influenced by the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex "Pee Dee."

With the excavation finished, team members must now analyze the artifacts brought back to the laboratory to find out more about the lifeways of the people belonging to the Pee Dee culture. They will use a series of questions to structure their inquiry.

2. Distribute the "Pee Dee Culture Artifacts" and "Classification" activity sheets. Working individually or in small groups, the students cut out the artifacts on the "Pee Dee Culture Artifacts" activity sheet. They group the artifacts so they can answer the questions on the "Classification" activity sheet. Have students answer the research questions and tell how they classified the artifacts to do that.

As the students work, they will find that objects move from one category to another depending on the question they ask. For example, the pieces of shell could be used to answer questions about both diet and adornment. Thus, shell could be classified as food remains and as jewelry.

3. Have students form one or more questions of their own. How might they classify their objects to answer their questions?


Summarize what students have learned about classification and answering archaeological research questions.


Students hand in the "Classification" activity sheet for evaluation.


Like ancient tools, pennies are artifacts. Have students graph pennies by year and frequency. What is the oldest and youngest penny in the collection? What year or years are the most common? Archaeologists make inferences about the artifacts they recover from a site. To help students understand this process, lead them to make the following inferences about the origin of their penny collection:


Lesson 1.6: "Classification and Attributes."

Lesson 1.7: "Scientific Inquiry."

Lesson 4.6: "Language Families."


Coe, Joffre Lanning. 1995. Town Creek Indian Mound: A Native American Legacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Smith, Shelley J., Jeanne M. Moe, Kelly A. Letts, and Danielle M. Paterson. 1993. Intrigue of the Past: A Teacher's Activity Guide for Fourth through Seventh Grades. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior. [This lesson is adapted from "Artifact Classification" on pp. 53-55, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.]

Ward, H. Trawick, and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. 1999. Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [The image in this lesson's main heading is taken from Figure 4.23.]

"Classification" Activity Sheet Answers:

1. Corn, beans, meat, fruit, acorn and hickory nuts, fish, and shellfish.
2. Shell pendant and shell earrings.
3. Pipe and gaming disc.
4. Curved and straight lines, dots, shapes, and plain.
5. Bone, stone, and clay.

Activity Sheets for Lesson 2.3

"Classification." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

"Pee Dee Culture Artifacts." For a PDF version of this sheet, click here.

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